Saturday, March 12, 2011

Maples and Elms

The beekeeper’s year is measured by a number of events of the calendar and nature. The calendar is divided into months and days and the solstices and equinoxes. Natural events are also significant to beekeepers. Among them are the bloom of the red maple, clover, blackberry, apple, tuliptree, and goldenrod. The bloom dates of major nectar producers, like soybeans and cotton in the Arkansas Delta, are also carefully followed. The red maple bloom is one of the first events observed by beekeepers. Maples are often the first major source of nectar and pollen. Red maple trees produce considerable nectar and large amounts of pollen in the late winter. As foraging workers bring the red pollen into the hive, it stimulates the queen’s egg production. The pollen also provides necessary protein for the developing brood. In the Arkansas Delta, the red nectar bloom occurs during the rapid expansion of the honey bees' brood nest. The red maple is followed in bloom by the silver maple, sugar maple, and the box elder, which is also a maple. Maple honey is described as having a fine flavor and a white or amber color with a tinge of pink. Rarely is a surplus stored; most is consumed feeding the brood.

Elms are wind-pollinated trees, but honey bees collect pollen from elms during times of pollen scarcity from other sources. The American elm was planted extensively in urban areas; but its numbers were reduced by a fungal condition, Dutch elm disease. Today, the most common elm is a small tree, the winged elm. While the maples and elms bloom at an important time in the early development of the honey bee colony’s spring-time expansion, their bounty is often missed. Cold and rainy days of the late winter and early spring often prevent bees from flying while the trees are in bloom. The weather was warm and pleasant today, and I saw foragers bringing in bright red maple pollen. Today’s photo: red maple in bloom.

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